x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Tourists with 'low' jobs turned away at border

Teachers and doctors have no problem if they turn up at the Hilli crossing into Oman without a visa. Not so, however, if you work in a bar.

Kathryn Holbrook, a teacher, was told she could cross into Oman without applying for a visa but Colin Davids, a barman in a hotel nightclub, was refused access.
Kathryn Holbrook, a teacher, was told she could cross into Oman without applying for a visa but Colin Davids, a barman in a hotel nightclub, was refused access.

AL AIN // Residents are being turned away from border crossings between the UAE and Oman because of the type of job they have. Officials at crossings are enforcing a long-standing agreement between the countries that only expatriates who have what are considered professional occupations can pass into Oman from the UAE without having to apply for a visa.

According to one Omani immigration officer, teachers, doctors, lawyers anyone who has a professional occupation are free to travel into Oman. However, those who do other jobs, such as in the service industry, construction or sales, would not be allowed The rule, which is to be implemented at all checkpoints, was previously in effect, but border officials only began enforcing it this year, said Captain Ahmad al Shamsi, an Emirati official at the Hilli checkpoint, which links Al Ain with Buraimi and is for non-GCC citizens.

One resident, Colin Davids, was turned away from the checkpoint when he attempted to cross into Buraimi for a camping trip with friends. An immigration agent refused to let him out of the UAE and into Oman. "He wouldn't tell me why, but referred me to the visa officer in charge, instead," said Mr Davids, 27, who had made the crossing numerous times before. "I went inside to ask why and was shocked when he told me I had what he called a 'low job'."

Mr Davids works at the Al Ain Rotana hotel as a barman at Moodz nightclub. The job description on his visa says he is a waiter. "The immigration officer told me that there was a list of occupations that were not free to travel and that mine was too low down to allow me across the border into Oman," Mr Davids said. An official in the consular section of the UAE Embassy in Muscat confirmed the agreement between Oman and the Emirates.

"People with certain occupations cannot leave the UAE and people with certain occupations cannot enter Oman," she said. "There is an agreement between the two countries that is being adhered to." People with affected occupations who want to visit Oman need to apply for a visa at the Omani Embassy in Abu Dhabi, she said. Khaled Hardan, an official at the Omani embassy in Abu Dhabi, confirmed that a prospective visitor's occupation is a factor considered when issuing a visa, adding that regulations had become more stringent throughout the GCC recently, and not just in Oman.

As for Mr Davids and others like him, Mr Hardan said: "If he would like a visitor's visa, he can come to the Omani embassy in Abu Dhabi and apply for one." An Omani immigration officer, who asked not to be named, said in the past many people would leave the UAE and enter Oman from Hilli. They would then stay and work illegally in Buraimi. "In the case of the Hilli border crossing into Buraimi, there isn't an official Omani checkpoint for 40km down the road to Muscat," he said. "For people with professional jobs, it would be harder for them to find work illegally in Buraimi, whereas a carpenter can find odd jobs to do here and there."

Kathryn Holbrook, a 29-year-old geography teacher at Al Ain English School, who was with Mr Davids when he tried to cross, was stunned to learn that he could not. "My occupation is listed as a teacher so I was told I could cross into Oman, but not Colin," she said. "I complained to people at the border who told me there was a new list that came out this year." Days after Mr Davids's experience, Arianne Galez, 31, from the Philippines, stood in front of a visa officer in disbelief. After making regular trips to visit her family, who were expecting her, she was suddenly being denied.

The officer explained to Ms Galez that certain occupations, including hers - a receptionist at a dental clinic - were not considered professional. "My cousin and sister work in Sohar," Ms Galez said. "I don't know when I am going to see them again." ealghalib@thenational.ae